This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.
Wednesday November 12, 02014 – San Francisco
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Holos Rising – a summary by Stewart Brand
When Kevin Kelly looked up the definition of “superorganism” on Wikipedia, he found this: “A collection of agents which can act in concert to produce phenomena governed by the collective.” The source cited was Kevin Kelly, in his 01994 book, Out of Control. His 02014 perspective is that humanity has come to dwell in a superorganism of our own making on which our lives now depend.
The technological numbers keep powering up and connecting with each other. Their aggregate is becoming formidable, rich with emergent behavior, and yet it is still so new to us that it remains unnamed and scarcely considered.
Kelly clicked through some current tallies: one quintillion transistors; fifty-five trillion links; one hundred billion web clicks per day; one thousand communication satellites. Only a quarter of all the energy we use goes to humans; the rest drives Earth’s “very large machine.” Kelly calls it “the Technium” and spelled out what it is not. Not H.G. Wells’ “World Brain,” which was only a vision of what the Web now is. Not Teilhard de Chardin’s “Noosphere,” which was only humanity’s collective consciousness. Not “the Singularity,” which anticipates a technological event horizon that Kelly says will never occur as an event—”the Singularity will always be near.”
The Technium may best be considered a new organism with which we are symbiotic, as we are symbiotic with the aggregate of Earth’s life, sometimes called “Gaia.” There are pace differences, with Gaia slow, humanity faster, and the Technium really fast. They are not replacing each other but building on each other, and the meta-organism of their combining is so far nameless. Kelly shrugged, “Call it ‘Holos.’ Here are five frontiers I think that Holos implies for us…”
1) Big math of “zillionics” —beyond yotta (10 to the 24th) to, some say, “lotta” and “hella.” 2) New economics of the massive one-big-market, capable of surprise flash crashes and imperceptible tectonic shifts. 3) New biology of our superorganism with its own large phobias, compulsions, and oscillations. 4) New minds, which will emerge from a proliferation of auto-enhancing AI’s that augment rather than replace human intelligence. 5) New governance. One world government is inevitable. Some of it will be non-democratic—”I don’t get to vote who’s on the World Bank.“ To deal with planet-scale issues like geoengineering and climate change, “we will have to work through the recursive dilemma of who decides who decides?” We have no rules for cyberwar yet. We have no backup to the Internet yet, and it needs an immune system.
There is lots to work out, but lots to work it out with, and inventiveness abounds and converges. “We are,” Kelly said, “at just the beginning of the beginning.”
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